Taking your PhD to Galway via Doha and Geelong: social justice, online education and snowballing collaborations

CRADLE PhD student Sarah Lambert survived an unscheduled Doha visit, folk music in Galway and research seminar bootcamps to polish her findings and present at an international conference on online education and social justice.

With some published papers under my belt, this is the year of sharing findings, presenting and getting feedback, and writing that “golden thread” dissertation document that ties my PhD research publications together.  I recently returned from presenting my work at Galway at the OER19 conference and this helped to polish up my main points and thesis argument. OER19 may not be so well known by mainstream ed-tech particularly in Australia. But it is run by ALT in the UK, and is big in the world of open education, open pedagogy and Open Educational Resources (OER). The theme attracted a range of interdisciplinary and critical digital pedagogy attendees, and Galway was the backdrop for some wonderful research networking and conversations. I also enjoyed the pubs, sunsets, swans, great weather and the Guinness poured really slowly so there’s time for a chat. As someone who has attended too many folk festivals in what feels like a previous life, I also survived the folk music.

But before Galway, there was Geelong. 

I kicked off the year of presentations at Deakin’s HDR Summer School in Geelong and looked back on the phases and major outputs of my research. I got to reflect on my growing passion for theory, the mad undertaking that is the systematic review method, and the way the investigation into open, online eduction (particularly the free online courses) launched these very interesting and somewhat intuitive side-projects. Fortunately, 2 of my interesting side-projects ended up the being the metaphorical main course and South African side-salad in a thesis by publication which I am currently writing into a coherent whole. It also opened the doors to some international collaborations, which are still snowballing to unknown destinations.

One of these side-project papers proposed a new definition of open education aligned to the principles of social justice, provoking a lot of conversation and connection in my Twittersphere.  Subsequently I’ve plotted, conversed and collaborated my way to co-editing a journal special edition devoted to open education and social justice along with Prof. Laura Czerniewicz from the University of Cape Town. Collaborating with Laura has consistently surprised, stretched and energised me. Firstly, she kindly said yes to my invitation over a meal at HERDSA in Adelaide last year. Then we worked out the special edition editing gig together – collaborating on the scope and call for papers. Getting accepted to facilitate a workshop on the topic at OER19 got another ball rolling as we worked out how we could include many more online participants who couldn’t make it to Galway in person. Supported by Egyptian scholar and Virtually Connecting expert Assoc. Prof. Maha Bali we eventually co-opted more collaborators and facilitated an onsite and online parallel workshop with over 30 attendees across multiple timezones.

To cap off OER19, I also was accepted to present a big slice of my empirical PhD findings. That was great until I found out they had put me in the the main hall venue and were planning to live stream the whole thing, and record it for posterity and YouTube eternity. Cue 48 hours of rising anxiety. Luckily I had done a practice run at CRADLE prior to leaving, and another rehearsal at a related PhD boot-camp in Galway just before the conference. For this I give thanks to the Open University UK research network who ran this and also funded my attendance.  Still, the matter of researcher positioning had tripped me up and it took two last minute critical friend conversations to get me over the line. Perhaps with important presentations it’s a matter of third time lucky. The final recording (20 minutes) is embedded below. In it I outline social justice as a theoretical framing for open education cases, and a selection of free online courses that show progress for regional, multi-lingual, and female learners. Thanks to my CRADLE supervisors for the ongoing support.

Next stop, I’ll be presenting an Australian case study of a free, online, open enabling program for regional learners. This will be at the STARS conference in Melbourne in July. Will I see you there?

PS. Before I made it to Galway, there was an unschedule stop-over in Doha due to flight delay. If you find yourself in this situation I highly recommend a visit to the National Museum of Qatar for some insights into the Muslim world of art, astronomy and science. The image below is the skyline of the city of Doha from the edge of the harbour as I walked from the Central Souk (market) to the Museum.

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